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July 8, 2014 - 10:33am

Officially, cause of Saturday's fire in Le Roy undetermined, but electrical origin likely

posted by Howard B. Owens in fire, Le Roy.

The likely culprit in Saturday's fire Le Roy that destroyed the home of Greg and David Luetticke-Archbell is electrical.

Whether it was an electric device that first caught on fire or wiring in a wall hasn't been determined.

There is no evidence of any deliberate action that caused the fire.

Jim Bouton, a coordinator and investigator with Genesee County Office of Emergency Management, discussed the investigator's findings with The Batavian this morning.

"On the report it will say the cause is undetermined," Bouton said. "The primary principle is electrical."

The fire started in the garage, Bouton said, not on the porch as initially reported.

Also, the explosion during the fire was caused by backdraft, which is caused by the rapid reintroduction of oxygen into an enclosed area where oxygen has been depleted by fire.

There was lots of fuel available for a fire -- what firefighters call "fire load" -- big wood beams and all of the accoutrements of a modern lifestyle.

Bouton said these days people have a lot more polyester, plastic and other flammable materials around the house, which is just fuel for flames.

In the Luetticke-Archbell garage there was a motorbike, snowmobile and woodchipper, all with gasoline in the tanks, not to mention the fiberglass of the snowmobile to add fuel to the fire.

The house at 8005 North Road was built in 1806. There had been many upgrades to the residence, including upgraded electrical, Bouton said, but that still doesn't mean an electrical problem can't creep up.

Asked how concerned other residents should be about electrical fires, Bouton explained people should pay attention to how they're using electric and what's going on with the electric in their house.

Houses built before the electronic gadget age are susceptible to problems.

Most people don't understand how they overload their circuits.

(NOTE: During our conversation, Bouton wanted to make it clear he wasn't implying Greg and David did anything to cause the fire -- the cause remains undetermined.)

Bouton used this example: In your bathroom you probably have a 15-amp circuit. You plug in a curling iron and hair blower. Each draws 1,500 watts. Divide those 3,000 watts by 120 voltage and you're drawing 25 amps on a single 15-amp circuit.

That overload causes wires to heat and over time the wires become damaged.

It can take many years, but it's a fire hazard.

If you read the instructions for your microwave, refrigerator and freezer, you are warned that each should be on their own 20-amp circuit. Often, however, people just plug these items in with no consideration to what circuits they're on.

For those of us using power strips for our home entertainment centers or desk areas, chances are the devices are not drawing enough concurrent electricity to create a problem, but the preponderance of electronic devices -- mobile phone chargers, computers in every room, TVs in multiple rooms, etc., should be a concern.

In older homes, the fusebox has been replaced by a circuit breaker (perhaps not by a licensed electrician), Bouton said, but it's still a 60-amp service when it should be 100 amps for all the electronics in a typical home today.

If your lights flicker when you turn on electronics, or you keep blowing a circuit breaker, perhaps you're overloading circuits, Bouton said.

Bouton noted that it's ironic that in the City of Batavia, only a licensed plumber can do plumbing work in another person's home, but there's no prohibition against using unlicensed electricians.

Bouton recommends using licensed electricians for any wiring or rewiring for inspecting any suspected issues with circuits.

"I'm not saying we have a big problem out there, but people should be aware," Bouton said. "If you've got a question call an electrician."

Gale Conn-Wright
Gale Conn-Wright's picture
Last seen: 4 days 8 hours ago
Joined: Jun 28 2009 - 7:30pm

This is good to know, for many reasons.

Ed Hartgrove
Ed Hartgrove's picture
Last seen: 15 hours 41 min ago
Joined: Dec 20 2012 - 11:54am

Great example given by Jim Bouton. Who amongst us hasn't plugged an electrical item in and felt the 'cord' get warm? THAT IS OVERLOAD!! And yeah, you might think "No big deal. I've used this (hair dryer, toaster, food mixer, whatever) a hundred times before, and nothing happened. And, I only need it for 2 minutes".

What they fail to realize is they can't see any damage they may be causing to the wiring behind the wall. It CAN have a cumulative effect.

And then, there's always Chip n' Dale, Rocket J. and Ben to consider. "Sorry, PETA".

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